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Source: Perfil - Por Marianela Ego

Conicet Scientists Created a Pumpkin-flavored Snack to Prevent Anemia

Pumpkin is the first solid food tasted by babies and one of the most usual food for the elderly. With this in mind, a group of Conicet researchers created an iron- and probiotic-fortified snack based on pumpkin for people who suffer from anemia.

“We eat this product throughout our entire life. That is why we chose it. Its easy acceptance will allow us to achieve our purpose: lower anemia rates in the country,” explained to PERFIL magazine Marina Francisca de Escalada Pla, Conicet research associate in the Industry Department of the School of Exact and Natural Sciences of University of Buenos Aires (UBA).

The project consists in adding to the pumpkin one-third of the daily doses of iron recommended by the World Health Organization. This process is conducted through “dry impregnation”; i.e., the vegetable is cooked in the traditional way, sugars, minerals and other ingredients are added and then the mixture is stirred until a homogeneous product is obtained. Then, pumpkin is fortified with probiotics and strained. Once dry, it is packaged and ready to use.

“It is complex to treat the iron, rather than the manufacturing process itself”, stated the professor of the School of Food Engineering at the University of Buenos Aires. “The specific properties of iron can cause changes in flavor, color and even unwanted aromas. We knew that it would not be an easy task, but we took the challenge. The numbers related to anemia are worth the effort,” she added.

Risk

Anemia is defined as a reduction in the concentration of hemoglobin (Hb) in blood below the reference range for the age and physiological status of an individual. The most common cause generally is iron deficiency. According to the 2008 National Nutrition and Health Survey, 34% of children under two years of age and nearly 20% of women of fertile age suffer from anemia. This is a risk factor because it impacts on the neonatal morbidity and mortality and on the cognitive development during the school years. With the snack, the aim is to raise the current rates of iron intake in women and children.

“We decided that it should be a sweet-flavored product, making it more attractive for children. Pumpkin will be packaged in small squares, ready to add to yogurt or to eat as a snack. Its appearance is very similar to the candied fruits of the sweet bread”, explained the investigator at Conicet.

“Development of Iron- and Probiotic-fortified Food Based on Pumpkin” was one of the projects elected by the Arcor Foundation and the National Agency for Scientific and Technological Promotion under the scope of the Arcor's Award to Innovation. This way, the project won AR$ 80,000 for its execution and implementation.

In the future, this product is expected to reach the shops. “First, we tested the laboratory-scale manufacturing, and now, as we have won the Arcor Foundation’s award, we increased production to a greater volume (5 kg). This will make it possible to have more data and to make more assessments in case there is any interested producer”, concluded De Escalada Pla.

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